Think college towns are only for twenty somethings with a knack for studying and partying? Thing again, folks. There are communities all around some fine American colleges and universities that have become some of the most diverse and intellectually stimulating places in the country. For arts and cultural lovers, they are a mecca of museums and fancy theatre venues, and for sports fans, there are always tons of crazy events to attend—not to mention ample amounts of cultural and political discussion in and around town, as well as classes to help any Baby Boomer looking to learn something new.
Seriously, why let the kids have all of the fun to themselves? Get psyched by challenging yourself with a bright and innovative experience by heading on off to a retiree-friendly college town where you can re-create that horizon-broadening experience and sense of adventure that you fell in love with way back when. Enjoy the life of a co-ed at these sizzling hotspots.
Best College Towns in the United States for Retirees
1. State College, Pennsylvania
With a population of just almost 42,000, it’s home to Penn State University, and has long attracted retirees with an overabundance of shops, restaurants, and cultural amenities that cater perfectly to the over 55 bracket in town (which as of lately, makes up the fastest growing segment of the town's population). Plus, the Village at Penn State, a renowned continuing care residence in the heart of State College, offers residents easy access to premium care as well as free admission to University classes. There’s even priority access to Penn State football games so you can definitely have some fun!
Though the area itself is not super close to any major cities or the beach, it’s still a fave amongst retirees of all sorts, providing a nice rural small-town feel that’s anything by dull. Check out the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State, which always has tons of chamber music concerts, ballet, and Broadway shows lined up, or the Palmer Museum of Art, part of the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State. It’s home to eleven art galleries and an outdoor sculpture garden—plus admission is free. What’s more is that in addition to free undergrad courses for local residents age sixty and older on a space-available basis, the state of Pennsylvania is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees, with Social Security benefits, public and private pensions, and distributions from retirement accounts all tax free. Mount Nittany Medical Center and nearby Penn State University Milton S. Hershey Medical Center also offer some of the most well-regarded health care in the region.
2. Cambridge, Massachusetts
It’s the home of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as the definition of a quote-on-quote ‘college town.’ Students make up nearly one-third of the city's population and the more than rich academic heritage has gone on-- over the centuries-- to foster one of the nation’s best communities for arts and culture. There are nearly six museums per square mile in Cambridge—plus, it’s one of the most walkable communities in the country and has one of America's best health care systems in terms of quality and care. Perhaps that’s why retirement-age residents absolutely adore this Massachusetts locale, which happens to boast one of the highest costs of living in the country—not to mention fabulous views of the Charles River!
Stroll, run, or bike to your heart’s content along graceful bridges, the distant Boston skyline, and calm bank waters as you stare in awe at all the elegant spires of Harvard soaring up into the sky. Then mingle with everybody from Nobel Laureates to working-class Joes in Harvard Square before heading over to Central Square, an ethnic melting pot of people and fine dining options. There’s nothing better than this.
3. Fort Collins, Colorado
The home of Colorado State University has a population of just about 152,000 and offers a "small town feeling with the big city attributes that baby boomers crave," according to bestboomertowns.com. There are tons of outdoor adventures to take part in as well, especially during those snowy winters. And with more than 30,000 Colorado State students in and around town, Fort Collins is brimming with youthful exuberance. Weather-wise, the city is blessed with more than three hundred days of sunshine each year, making any day of the week a perfect opportunity to bask in the glories of more than 600 acres of parks and twenty miles of walking and biking trails. Don’t forget to take a hike out to the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park for a real adventure.
Retirees hoping for something more urban will also adore the lively downtown area, which is home base to an eclectic array of outdoor cafés, brew pubs, coffee shops, and live-performance venues. There’s even a Foodie Walk in the historic pedestrian center every third Friday of the month. So get ready to chow down on some local culinary specialties. What’s more is that Colorado is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees, where retirees can receive a generous retirement-income exclusion from state taxes and may even qualify for a homestead exemption of up to 50% of property value. Plus, with the Poudre Valley Hospital, a 270-bed community regional medical center, close by, you’ll be safe and sound for life.
4. Asheville, North Carolina
Offering majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, mild and moderate temperatures year-round, as well as first-class medical facilities, this home of the University of North Carolina at Asheville truly brings the North Carolinian living experience to life. The campus itself was one of the first major schools in the nation to offer an on-campus center dedicated to making the retirement years feel fulfilling with The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, founded in 1988, and consistently ranked as one of the best facilities of its kind.
Though the student population is just a little under 4,000, retirees can take full advantage of many local benefits such as The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers more than 300 courses a year, usually in six- to eight-week terms. There’s even a Creative Retirement Exploration Weekend designed specifically for working people who are considering relocating into town when they retire. Many of those who attend the weekend end up moving to Asheville—and it’s no surprise why, given the extensive educational offerings, the vibrant local arts scene, and the tons of breweries and restaurants to choose from. Bring your drums to Pritchard Park to participate in a drum circle every Friday during the warm-weather months. The event has been a local Asheville tradition since 2001 and often attracts a surprisingly large number of seniors.
5. Lexington, Kentucky
There’s so much more to the Bluegrass State than just basketball, bourbon, and beautiful horses. First off, it’s home to the University of Kentucky, which offers two free programs for older adults: the Donovan Fellowship and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The horse industry, however, does play a vital role in local life, bringing people from around the world into town to provide a real internationally diverse sort of charm.
Surround yourself for life with horse farms, rolling country sides, over a hundred parks, ten miles of hiking trails, six public golf courses, and a 734-acre nature preserve. There are also two ballet companies, a minor-league baseball team, a huge performing arts center, weekly big band and jazz concerts in the summer, and gallery hops throughout the year. Plus, health care is super accessible, with over thirteen hospitals and a couple hundred physicians’ offices in and around the area. Lexington really does offer all the amenities of a large city, but with a cost of living that’s way below the national average.
6. Charlottesville, Virginia
With a population of about 44,349, this Virginian favorite is home to the stately and picturesque University of Virginia, which was founded by President Thomas Jefferson. The entire town offers quaint and charming tree-lined streets, as well as gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains—it’s the perfect locale for active adults hoping to settle down in a vibrant and culturally stimulation environment. Hike, bike, and go paddling, or catch one of those free Fridays After Five concerts at the Downtown Mall. Wine lovers will love the ample chances to sniff and sip on worthy vintage classics at Trump Winery or Barboursville Vineyards.
If you’re age sixty and over, there’s even the chance to take noncredit classes tuition-free at UVA and other area schools, including Piedmont Community College. What’s more is that retirees will enjoy knowing that Virginia's health care system receives an above-average grade by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, especially because the computer systems at local Virginia hospitals track comments from physicians and other necessary documents, making it easier and breezier for everyone. The state also achieved national benchmarks for certain pneumonia vaccinations, and the health care workers have been known to have great levels of communication with their patients. What more could you ask for?
7. Boise, Idaho
It made number three on CNN Money's "25 Best Places To Retire" list for its incredible cultural scene, surprisingly moderate climate, and ample access to outdoor activities. It’s also one of the best "Top 10 Turnaround Towns” economically -- so it’s a city that’s definitely worth investing in, especially with all that hard earned money you’ve spent gathering up over the decades.
Of course, there’s also Boise State University, which houses the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts. Take a seat at symphony concerts, dance, and Broadway musicals galore. Or sit in on college-level classes on everything from Photoshop to philosophy at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Plus, Boise’s unique location on a high desert plain keeps winters mild and humidity levels low—it’s perfect for active adults wanting to cruise down a nice 25-mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway, or to venture out on numerous scenic hiking trails. After working out, be sure to check out the number of area restaurants serving traditional Basque food. The town has not only got a large Basque population (region encompassing north-central Spain and southwestern France), but is also the home of the only Basque museum in the United States.
8. Oxford, Mississippi
Three words can describe this Mississippi town: Faulkner, football, and food. First, it’s home to the famed American writer and Nobel Prize laureate, who penned some his most famous novels and stories while living here. His grand influence remains today, especially in and around Square Books, the famous independent bookstore that’s located in town center. Oxford even plays host to two major international literary conferences a year—The Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference and Oxford Conference for the Book. Second, there’s the sporting aspect: it’s easy to find football-related activities anywhere in town, as the Ole Miss Rebels basically dominate every inch of the city, especially during their elaborate tailgating rituals during home games. Last but not least, there’s the food, which offers diners with dozens of high quality spaces to fill up in at in The Square—the heart of Oxford, near the old Lafayette County courthouse.
The university itself also offers retirees with a hubbub of things to look forward to. Retired locals can take advantage of one free university course per semester. Former teachers can even apply for the program at Ole Miss that allows retirees to fill in for absent professors! “The Little Easy” really is an ornate experience for any traveler. So get on out to those rolling hills to enjoy four full seasons of sunshine and no coast-bashing hurricanes.
9. Ann Arbor, Michigan
This one’s one of the nation’s most famous college towns and is home to the world famous University of Michigan, allowing the city to be brimming with intellectual engagement, especially with the university-based noncredit educational programs at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (where over 55-ers can endure long lectures, classes, and study groups on arts, philosophy, religion, and history). There are even tons of wellness and fitness programs at the campus’ Turner Senior Resource Center.
Plus, Ann Arbor’s health care facilities are amongst the best of the best around the world, offering a more than broad range of specialties, including geriatrics. What’s more is that because the city has super strict zoning regulations, there is an extremely pleasant small-town environment all around that’s been left untouched by the typical hassles of big-name developers. Downtown Ann Arbor also boasts a leisure scene that’s to die for, with music stores, sidewalk cafes, chic boutiques, and so much more.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.